On the way to the Yerablur National Military Cemetery this morning, I hoped I wouldn't meet up with a lot of people there. I no longer can take the crowds and the inevitable people who pop up with their concocted war stories. I promised myself that if that was the case I'd leave and return in the evening. Today is the day that Monte Melkonian was buried here back in 1993. He was killed on the battlefield in Artsakh on June 12. His relatives were to arrive from the United States on that day.
When I arrived I was fortunate to only see a few people hanging about. There were just seven of us. Luckily, Lavrent was there as well. Lavrent is from the village of Hemishjan in the Martuni district. He now lives in Shushi.
Monte really took a liking to Lavrent; he was a good soldier. I first met up with Lavrent in February, 1992 in his village. He had just returned from his stint in the Soviet Army. The car we were in had gotten stuck in the mud right outside his house. Hearing the commotion, a well-built guy came outside. It was Lavrent, all 90 kilos of him. Lavrent was a real village boy who amazed me with his simplicity and purity of heart. He had no ulterior motives in anything he said. He's remained the same today; a grown-up with a child's clarity.
He was wounded several times. His memory was affected by an injury he sustained to the head. There are some things about the war he doesn't remember. Surprisingly, he remembers others down to the last detail. Lavrent was a soldier in the Berdashen detachment. I can picture him with his automatic rifle and bag of grenades and such. The bag must have weighed 45 kilos; half of what he weighed at the time. Today, Lavrent hits the scales at a whopping 130 kilos. My friend Hrayr kids him when he points out that his weight hasn't changed after all these years.
Lavrent always dreamt about becoming a tank driver and would tell everybody about his ambition. It seems that Monte also got wind of this. One day his unit commander in Berdashen called Lavrent over and told him to hand over his weapons and to report to Monte in Martuni. Lavrent did as he was ordered. Monte told him that he was going to become a tank driver. Lavrent was overjoyed and asked for a week to get prepared. Monte responded - What do you mean, a week. You got three hours to get ready.
Lavrent agrees and two hours later he's behind the controls of his tank. He turned into one of the best fighters in the Martuni self-defense force. Today, I met him at Yerablur. He's talking about justice, the restoration of justice and such. He tells me - You know, I'm amazed that our guys are so afraid. Why don't they fight back against all this injustice? As a result of his war wounds, Lavrent is classified as a vet with 2nd class disabilities. He gets a 60,000 dram disability pension.
He's the father of two kids. I started thinking to myself that the government gives 60,000 drams to its war heroes; and Lavrent is certainly one. The four of them get by on 60,000 drams in Shushi. There are other Artsakh war vets in Lavrent's shoes; others that the government has failed to acknowledge properly.
Our society has yet to demand from the government that our heroes must be granted the resources to live with honor and dignity. These are the real heroes; not the generals, but the common foot soldiers. Before we departed, Lavrent whispered in my ear - If I'm needed, tell me. I come with my tank. I realized that he wasn't kidding.